Many of us have mixed feelings about having our picture taken. As a person with a history of mild body dysmorphia and anorexia, I have always found looking at photographs of myself challenging – sometimes even excruciating.  I am generally getting more practiced at it.  But even today, while I have to see myself on camera at times for work, my first reaction is always to cringe when I first see a photo of myself. Why? I think there are a few reasons for this:

1: I grew up scrutinizing my appearance because I saw the impossible acquisition and possession of beauty to be my ticket out of a life of subtle oppression, and isolation; and because seeing how much I fell short in this way meant I would be eternally powerless, and alone. So, looking at photos of myself was a loaded practice, that left me feeling torn between despair and disappointment, and the faint hope for a way out of my suffering.

2: For years, perhaps because the stakes were so high, my relationship with the camera would swing between hope and fear. And for a long time, I became so phobic of the camera, that if someone managed to sneak a picture of me, I would so quickly panic and retreat inside myself, that it would appear that there was nobody home behind my eyes. And, I actually was so psychologically shut down, that for a long time, my eyes revealed nothing. It is still eerie to look at photographs taken during those years. At that time, my body was not a home, not a sanctuary. It wasn’t even something I identified as “me.” I felt more like a prisoner of war inside myself.

And even today, I still resist my own image. But it feels slightly different. When I see my own static reflection staring back at me, there is also the fear and the frustration about the very idea that I can be nailed down, that my ever transient nature has one relatively immovable face, one basic shape of a body. I think that in my mind, I am not so fixed, not so bound to the material world. Mainly, I think it’s because I want to be able to transform and grow outside the bounds of my history, my biology. But, I suppose in one sense, I will always just be little, old me.

So having photos of myself is an act of radical acceptance on my part. It is a process of reclamation. I think that the part of it I like the most is the way you can sometimes look into your own eyes and see your own essence, your own life force, staring back. It is validating. And this is relatively new for me; there exist many random photos of me from years ago, where the person inside them is so powerless and afraid – so seemingly absent, that it has always hurt to look at them.

DSC_1899Seeing myself grow into the limits of my own form is a process that photographs can document. It is my hope that if I make it to 80, I will laugh tenderly at the notion that the body that had served me so IMG_5631well and for so long had once been perceived as a prison. It is my aspiration that the person behind my eyes will be so free and authentic that she will be the very picture of inscrutability. After I am gone, all that will be left of her face and body will be photographs. And I hope that her enigmatic gaze will make people wonder – about the mysteries, the wild depths, that lingered for a life time beneath the mischievous glimmer of her eyes.